Backloggin’ – Black Ops 2 campaign thoughts n’ feels

It’s hump day! That means video games and humping! Aren’t Wednesdays the best?

I’m still getting through the final stretch of this term’s school work, but I’m largely on-top of things at this point. Only one project to go, some exams, and I’m out for the month. I cannot wait until I can start gaming seriously again. There’s so much to catch up on, and now that the holidays are almost here, it means even more new games. But December? So pumped. I can’t wait to have that feel back where I can just sleep in day after day and do whatever I want again. The best. And in addition, Christmas! Oh my god this month kicks so much ass.

Anyway, let’s get into things. Again, small update, but more Black Ops 2 thoughts lie ahead.

Current backlog statistics:

Last week’s backlog statistics:

Changes:

  • Unfinished count down 0.4% (1 game beaten)

Beaten games since last update:

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Steam)

Note: stoned, jet-piloting Robert Downey Jr not included.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Steam)

Don’t ask me why I chose that header image there. I was just looking through google images for one and it happened to come up, being from the BO2 commercial and all. I think it’s funny because he looks kinda high (and pot-smoking Downey Jr. is immediately funny to me), and I had already used the other ideal picture for last week’s update.

So, yeah. Black Ops 2. Last week I was playing the campaign and having a grand ol’ time. I had blown through the first six missions and found them all to be surprisingly diverse and well-paced enough to hold my interest, and I thought all the new gadgets and toys added to compliment the not-so-distant future setting immediately made BO2 feel like something fresh, or reasonably fresh for a CoD game. I ended the post hoping that the game would continue to hold up and not fall into the pit of climactic guns-blazing despair that other Call of Duty titles have in the past.

And, well, my hopes were somewhat crushed. More details after the break.

Now before I go anywhere else, let me make this clear – I enjoyed Black Ops 2, and a lot more than I have other CoD campaigns. I’d take it over MW3‘s bland by-the-books approach any day. But it just happens to fall short about 2/3rds of the way through.

War. War kinda changes.

I thought about it a bit after finishing the game last week, and I think I can attribute it to one major fault in particular. See, the Call of Duty games (we’re talking single-player here) have always followed a somewhat loose formula in how they are structured, which goes something like this:

  1. The first third of the game is learning about and tracking some enemy leader
  2. The second is the close pursuit of this enemy
  3. And finally, a huge action-heavy climax with guns and explosions everywhere

Now sure, this seems like a fair enough forumla. The first third really throws you in to the game’s world, sets the stage, and sparks the conflict. You get a good sense about what’s going on, and generally things are well-paced. Gameplay-wise, there’s a fair amount of enemies and shorter levels.

Second – things get a little more interesting. Here’s where you get those plot-twists, possible character deaths, and otherwise noteworthy scenes. Things start to build up, and the scope of the conflict at hand begins to grow in size.

Lastly, ALL HELLS BREAKS LOOSE. America/the world is under attack! Russians/whatever generic foot soldiers run amok in our own streets! Citizens have been evacuated! AAAAAAAAAAAH

The problem is that by this third and final stage, the gameplay really starts to wear itself thin. The game, trying repeatedly to emphasize that you’re basically in the midst of another World War, throws enemy after enemy at you, with a sprinkle of explosions here and there. It’s high adrenaline, exciting, and tense – but it’s also boring, because this theme continues for a good two to three levels, and by the second, burn-out starts to set in.

In other words, pacing goes down the shitter. Where as the campaign(s) previously had a great variety of gameplay highs in past levels, switching between stealth, close-quarters, and story-advancement, here it’s just a flat, consistent heavy-handed climax that tries way to hard to impress the player. Sure, “end of the world” is a cool theme, and it’s pretty damn engaging. But when you repeatedly use it for several levels in a row? Nope. It gets old.

Ever since MW2, the CoD games seem to have tried way too hard to top themselves, which seems to lead to this problem. If I recall correctly, Black Ops 1 was better about it and didn’t exactly branch of into total global warfare like MW2 and 3 did, so it’s less at fault here. Instead, it adhered primarily to its story reveal, resulting in a gradual twist-ending that totally blew me away, and established it as the most memorable CoD campaign in years.

MW2, MW3, and now Black Ops 2, unfortunately, don’t do the same. They just go out guns-blazing, world-war-whatever and try and make up for a lack-luster ending with as many guns, explosions, and enemies as they can to make up for the lack of a fulfilling conclusion.

Black Ops 2 tries to frame a story about revenge and morals, and while it pieces the mission locales together nicely, it doesn’t have the twisting surprise in store for the player like Black Ops 1, so the ending pretty much falls flat on its face and goes for the shameful “end of the world!” approach. This greatly disappointed me.

What saves it, however, is the various key moments of decision left up to the player during the course of the campaign, something totally new to the CoD series. Depending on your in-game actions, you’ll eventually get a totally unique ending hinging on a variety of factors. This creates an intensity and involvement in the campaign that is impossible to ignore, and unique solely to Black Ops 2. The moments in which you are faced with a decision are never clearly presented to you like in Mass Effect, where you’re shown color-coded options that require simply a quick, disengaged trigger press. Rather, Black Ops 2’s various plot-changing moments are ones you will likely never see coming, and as a result, when they do, the pressure is unbearably uncomfortable – the way it should be.

The main villain of Black Ops 2, Raul Menendez, is the sort of CoD anarchist equivalent of the Batman’s Joker.

There was one moment in particular where I hesitated, going over the options in my head quickly and just trying to think what would work out best – I was essentially about to change the fate of an entire world. Unfortunately, my contemplation went on for a few seconds too long, as the game suddenly twisted away entirely from the options presented and went down a totally different, unseen road – too late. I was speechless as I watched what happened unfold, and the realization that the game had put a time-constraint on my decision was unreal. Black Ops 2 is the first game I have played in a long time where I felt like I was actually making conscious character decisions, rather than just picking “A” or “B”. Each decision is empowering, but the supposed consequences are immensely frightening, making each choice feel incredibly impactful. This simple mechanic brings a new element of player-involvement to the series that works exceptionally well. Some of the decisions here deviate so cleverly from black and white that I didn’t even know they were conscious choices until I looked it all up after reaching the credits.

All this considered, however, Black Ops 2 doesn’t deliver the mind-blowing powerhouse plot-twist(s) of the first game, so ultimately the story doesn’t compare. It does however, stand rather triumphantly on its own as one of the best CoD campaigns in years, and possibly one of the best single-player FPS games of 2012. It’s engaging, varied, and packs enough changes in to make things feel fresh again. While the last couple hours are numbingly overwhelming and start to feel somewhat stale akin to past CoD titles, overall Black Ops 2 is proof that Treyarch knows what they’re doing here.

Infinity Ward definitely has a tough act to follow.

Next week…

  • EXAMS!
  • … and then maybe some Skyrim or something

-rav4ge

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